September 01, 2018
What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been. I have been pissing around with web development now for nearly seven years. In that time I have gone from knowing nothing about it, to my first ever website, to a little, then really learned more and worked on some cool things. Along the way, building some fun side projects. All while the launch of my own thing eluded me. It was always on my mind. Always on the cards. Always avoided. After this next contract I swear I am going to think of an idea and not leave my chair until it was done. It never happened. Life always threw a curveball, the prophetic vision never came to me during a 2:00am sit down shower, my focus strayed, my motivation was fleeting, learning Go or Russian seemed more interesting, I tweaked my personal site for the millionth time, I re-organised my hard drive, I was always too tired, I never felt inspired enough, the NCAA Wrestling Championship was streaming, there were new posts on Hacker News to read, there was a high enough chance of failure that it would be safer to do nothing.
Fortunately in the past few months there has been the minimum viable number of variables required to make releasing something of substance into the world come to fruition.
This resulted in building Honest Work. A new UK focussed job board that enforces salaries to be displayed alongside the interview process. Below are a few of the things I learned, and mistakes I hope to not repeat.
Your co-founder is an asshole and so are you
I did not quite realise how similar being business partners with someone is with being in a relationship with them, and I did not see how much being in a relationship is like being business partners.
Stevie, my co-founder, is not someone that I would categorise as orderly, focused, obsessive, a realist (a.k.a cynical, pessimistic). So what are the implications of me publicly negging my co-founder? It enables me to give him the biggest compliment I can. Stevie is everything that I am not.
While Stevie is not meticulously combing through his Trello boards, is not planning for every possible scenario that could go wrong, is not focussed on one specific task, is not trying to calm down after a battle with an off-by-2px-in-android-web-viewer-browser misalignment, he is out in the world, making lasting connections with people, getting eyeballs on Honest Work, making introductions, seeking advice from people smarter than us, speaking at conferences, having six different conversations with people. Being the physical embodiment of the values we laid out for Honest Work.
I visualise our differences as me desperately trying to anchor us to the floor so Stevie does not fly too close to the Sun, but in his effort to fly, drags me a few feet off the floor. A much needed ascent for me, and descent for Stevie.
How does that make either of you an asshole? Because believing these differences are a positive thing is hard to keep in the forefront of your mind in the midst of a disagreement, which almost always opens a door to you losing patience and most importantly, perspective. The wonderful boiling pot of diversity mutates from something beautifully intertwined to a complex battle of world views, biology, value matrices, up-bringing. You must be very self-aware of any thoughts that are along the lines of: “I simply cannot see why they are unable to X”. While they are either not capable, or would find X hard, they are carrying out your equally unattainable Y.
Coming to understand your own personality is the only way to allow the strengths of others to flourish, but more importantly, to teach you to be empathetic towards their weaknesses. If you have well and truly confronted your own inadequacies, and are still finding yourself thinking that the world should be more like you, please get in touch. I would pay any amount of money for you to teach me how to achieve the Olympic level of mental gymnastics that you have attained.
Learning where your sensitivities lay is the first step in trying to reduce your flirting with self-righteous behaviour. At least one step in the opposite direction of being an asshole. As an example, if you are even a marginally tidier person than your partner, you are all but doomed to a life time of being the first to notice things have become untidy. This does not make your partner an untidy person. It means you are simply first in line. But overtime, you could easily find yourself enjoying a self-indulgent internal monologue convincing you they are, besides, it feels like you are always the one doing the cleaning up? The cure for your self-indulgence is remembering that while you have been having a Pity Breakfast at Tiffany’s for one, they have been trying to come to terms with how one person (you) can generate that much inconsiderate noise. And so on.
I believe a key factor in two people with vastly differing world views, personalities and foundations upon which they conduct themselves not only working amicably, but succeeding, is that their values must be tightly aligned. This key can open up many doors in the short term. The road of longevity is paved with an unwavering mutual respect, something that throughout our misunderstandings, disagreements, has never faltered. Your mutual venture ends in unison with your mutual respect.
Trying to impress other programmers
Make sure you have your priorities in order. If your project is an open-source library, then by all means throw in an element of wanting to impress your peers for fun. Most likely you are not. Ensure that what you value, what you focus on, how you approach problems is in a manner that best serves your users, not the admiration of your peers.
Take pride in your work, but do not allow your pride to take precedent over delivering a solution to a problem you set out to solve.
Your friends, partner and family approval is both everything and nothing
The modern day MVP
Speaking about this with those around me has garnered a 30/30/40 split of opinions on this, those that agree with me, those that disagree with me, and those that have better things to think about, respectively. I believe that in most cases, the era of the bare bones MVP, release early cycle is over. Multiple people told me to “Just launch already man! Don’t bother with that feature, you’re just postponing release, thus revenue”. Had we released at those moments I believe the release would have been lacklustre, and the reception we did receive when we launched would have been unattainable by a rushed release.
This does not apply to the extremely few products that are truly bringing something unique and innovative to the world. If you are completely flipping the script, or have an idea that is time sensitive, by all means go ahead. But most will not fit that description.
The bar that dictates what an MVP is scales with the number of people that play the game. And boy are there a whole lot of people playing.
User testing two weeks before launch
This is fortunately not a lesson we had to learn the hard way. I believe we got extremely lucky that we did not face any major issues during user testing. My programming experience, Stevie’s recruitment experience, and our incredible designer Jack Smith helped mitigate most major issues we could have faced with the UX.
That being said, the fact that we even opened our doors for those issues to potentially walk through was a large mistake on our part. Something that going forward we will not make again. Our user testing sessions were absolutely invaluable. We caught some minor, but impactful UX problems and a few bugs that made our initial release a polished one. During development of Honest Work v2 we will most definitely be involving users from the very beginning.
As the programmer on the project, I wish we had begun user testing at the eighty percent completion mark, instead of ninety five percent. That final twenty percent is particularly challenging because all the fun, large features are finished, now it’s dealing with the mess you have made, fixing Internet Explorer issues, and most upsetting, the pile of tickets that you have put off for the entirety of the project, waiting for you to tackle in one fell swoop. Why would user testing have been helpful at this point? Because the first time that I saw someone that was not me or Stevie using Honest Work, my butt cheeks were clenched together with such force that I feared any more pressure could have resulted in the birth of a new solar system. Nothing quite like fear will help close that final gap.
Honest Work v1’s fundamental service is not only void of being a unique idea as it is a job board, but was not even initially my idea, it was Stevie’s. I brought into reality a polished product from Stevie’s conversational rants. I came to realise that my abilities are that of being an improver, not a creator. I spent years in creative isolation, with many a sit down shower trying to come up with an idea. That resulted in nothing other than shampoo in my eyes and an expensive utility bill.
As soon as Stevie begun discussing his idea my mind raced with improvements, edge cases, questions. His career has been spent gathering all the raw material that was required to make Honest Work work. Which when presented, enabled me to trim the fat, mould the features, iterate, embed my own frustrations as someone who uses job boards from the applicant point of view, and so on.
If you are in a position where you are continually failing to conjure an idea you wish to work on, look outside of yourself. Find a creator and try being an improver. I was extremely lucky by being in the right place at the right time, coupled with the fact we both adore mixed martial arts, to find Stevie. I believe the only useful advice I could give to someone on how to find something similar is that part of being lucky and in the right place at the right time is not only making a conscious effort to try and be there, but paying enough attention to see there is an opportunity stood before you (luckily mine was six foot three inches tall).
This is a topic I have discussed in my Infinite Jest post, but there is a new lesson to be learned here. Knowing of something, knowing something, and embodying something are completely different steps in the road to learning. Reading Infinite Jest had led me from ignorance, to the knowing of perfectionism. The articulation of that pushed me into the naive, dangerous realm of knowing perfectionism. The transition between step two and three seem to be the most vital, the battle you face during step two is that of trying to wake up from the illusion that you are already awake. I was bombarded with false positives, this belief that the newly found knowledge of perfectionism was in and of itself the embodiment of the lesson. Without translating this theoretical footing into concrete experience, you are arguably more vulnerable than before, as you now walk around naked with the belief you are clothed.
The release of this project has been the cementation of the lesson for me. I was paralysed by the fear of not being web scale, unreproducible bugs appearing, pixel level precision — all the fun things. The scenario of seeing a failed payment error hounded me. This was, at times, motivating, and a large proponent of why Honest Work is of the quality it is today, but there is no reason for these thoughts to have such an unhealthy effect on me, impact my desire to work, delay the release, nigh put the release at risk.
Why did I even have these thoughts? The only people in the world that would ever look at Honest Work with the same demanding, hyper critical, self-loathing lens are too busy sideline coaching their child’s under eight sport team to visit the site, so why did I care? Well, for start, I did care. I care deeply about the experience people have on my website. Honest Work was not born out of a lust for a big exit or to introduce myself as the co-founder of a start-up (we are not a start-up) at a meetup, it was because I believed something to be fundamentally broken with the way my industry worked, and I want to affect change within my immediate circle of influence, so that hopefully one day it spreads to the edges of the country I was born in and love. That is a 93,628 square mile reason to be debilitated by thoughts of perfectionism. So what are you going to do about it? Hide away and embark on the impassable quest of perfectionism in isolation, where it is safe? Well, you have tried that in the past and look where it got you. You must try something new.
Compassion. For myself. Every day I was holding myself to standards that I have never once come close to holding someone outside of myself to. Twitter breaks every single day for me, I see people buying extra adapters to make their phones work, HMRC has three different version of their website live. Guess what? They are all making money, provide a service, and people keep coming back (though HMRC’s traffic is assisted by governmental force). My desire for perfectionism in isolation was painted over by my desire to release Honest Work into the company of the imperfect.
And I am grateful for that. All of the bug reports for Honest Work have been sandwiched between praise for site, and although they encountered an issue, did not seem to be all that bothered by it, in fact, it appears a lot of people enjoy sending bug reports. What a waste of kilojoules.
I learned that I spend all day with myself, so I cannot afford to abuse the omniscient view of all my imperfect thoughts, feelings, actions, desires in liue of omniscience of others. I have to be with myself all day anyhow, I may as well try to be my friend.
Perfectionism is something that will ultimately dismantle your endeavour, exhaust you, cut you a thousand times, it will leave a piece of you eternally unfulfilled, it will bring out the best work in you as bait so the worst can emerge and destroy it.
The compassionate, informed pursuit of unachievable perfectionism, I promise you, is where all the glory lays.
To ensure a realistic image has been painted, I am not for a second saying I am “cured”, and that I have rode off into the blaze of a wonky, lopsided, imperfect sunset with a manic grin. I am saying that I now feel I have broken this issue into enough digestible pieces, with enough experience, that they can be managed. It is something that I can work with, rather than fight.
All of this culminated in producing Honest Work. If you are looking to employ people of all roles in the UK tech industry, or are someone looking for a job, be sure to check it out.
Thank you.« Go home